By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Lawyers representing foster children in Arizona filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday saying a failed system had exposed the youths to unreasonable harm and complaining that officials had not swiftly investigated reports of maltreatment in foster homes.
The lawsuit, filed against the state in U.S. District Court in Phoenix on behalf of 10 children ages 3 to 14, says Arizona's failure to address long-standing issues is unconstitutional and must be remedied.
Among the complaints listed in the suit were a severe shortage of foster homes, inadequate access to services, lack of basic welfare practices to preserve family relationships, and a failure to conduct timely investigations into reports of maltreatment.
“As a result of the state’s failure to remedy these problems, plaintiffs have been, and continue to be, exposed to harm and an unreasonable risk of harm,” the lawsuit said.
The complaint, filed by New York-based advocacy group Children’s Rights, the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest and Phoenix law firm Coppersmith Brockelman, seeks class action status to represent the nearly 17,000 children in Arizona’s foster care system.
A spokesman for Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said the filing was under review, adding that the care of foster children is taken “extremely seriously.”
“They are among the most vulnerable in our state and the governor believes it is imperative that the government protect them,” spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said in a statement.
Arizona’s child welfare system, which includes foster care, has come under fire after reports in 2013 that nearly 6,600 claims of abuse and neglect were not investigated. The state created a new agency and pumped an additional $60 million in funding to improve the system.
This is at least the second major U.S. legal action this year surrounding the issue. In January, lawyers representing a group of 11 foster children in South Carolina charged that the state’s overburdened system led to unconstitutional treatment of the youths. The lawsuit seeks to represent about 3,400 children in state foster care.
(Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Beech)